“Ever since I was a kid, I thought, ‘What can I do to help the border region where I grew up?’”
Although he didn’t know exactly how he would do this, José Garza always knew he wanted to work to improve the environment along the Texas-Mexico border. For the past 20 years, he has done precisely that, working for TEEX’s Frank M. Tejeda Center to bring clean drinking water to the border region.
The Tejeda Center began in 1999 as a grant-funded project to improve public health and the quality of life along the border. When the grant ran out in 2003, TEEX saw the opportunity to make a difference and adopted the program. Over the years, it has developed into what it is today, with posts in El Paso and Laredo. However, the Center’s work is not limited to the border region, and they often offer Spanish-language courses in other US states, territories and tribal lands and Mexican states along the US border.
As part of its mission to educate, the Center provides free online and face-to-face bilingual training. With materials presented in English and Spanish, operators learn technical terminology in both languages and know how to address the public in an emergency.
On the technical side, José and his counterpart, Carlos Méndez, travel to hundreds of towns to ensure that water and wastewater systems remain compliant with regulations. They diagnose issues and assist with repairs and updates so that utilities can pass inspections. When utilities ask the price of this service, José and Carlos reply, “No, this is something that TEEX does for free. We are here in the region, and we are willing to help.” This assistance is truly needed, as José says the Center primarily assists “very small systems along the border that don’t have the capacity to hire an engineer or someone to help them.”
For José and Carlos, this work goes beyond education and technical assistance, as they live in the communities they serve, and they build relationships with operators and inspectors. They manage this TEEX-funded project and do remarkable things every day that improve the lives of many. Over the years, inspectors have noted the significant improvement of systems in the area, and they often call José and Carlos to help bring systems up-to-date.
Today, looking back on the work he has done and the people he has helped, Jose says, “I never knew that I was going to be doing this exact type of work. But this job exceeds what I expected when I was a little kid, thinking about working on the environment along the Rio Grande. This is much more than I expected.”